Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been busy trying to get a media regulation package through Cabinet this week. His attempts to achieve consensus include a proposal that he is calling a compromise to the media super-regulator recommended by the Finkelstein Inquiry.
He must be confused about the meaning of that word. Compromise involves making concessions. But Conroy’s ‘compromise’ proposal is not to move away from government influence, his suggestion is to create ministerial powers which would give him direct control over the media:
Cabinet ministers said they supported a compromise that stopped short of the suggestion in judge Ray Finkelstein’s review of a News Media Council but created a role for government instead of leaving the press to regulate itself.
One option in Senator Conroy’s plan would give the minister the power to set the criteria to judge the performance of independent regulators such as the Australian Press Council. The minister would also decide if the regulator met the criteria.
All the options being considered are dangerous and undemocratic. But labelling a proposal which gives unfettered discretion to the minister is not a compromise. Conroy’s latest proposal makes him lawmaker and judge over a press that needs to be free in order to hold the government to account.